The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 21, 2001

Christopher Steck
Pages 233-250

Tragedy and the Ethics of Hans Urs von Balthasar

The goodness in many people's lives is often obscured by the limitations and brokenness which mark those same lives. The saint as moral icon, in which the moral beauty of the individual is clearly visible to all, cannot be the exclusive paradigm of Christian holiness. The kind of obscurity effected by limitation and human imperfection can be described as tragic—events and circumstances beyond the agent's control seem to determine the agent's moral fate. I argue that von Balthasar's theological aesthetics helps illuminate the tragic features of Christ's own life and can, in turn, help us understand the tragic dimension present in varying degrees in every Christian life. In tragic situations, where the brokenness and sin of the human condition threaten to undermine human love, the Christian's moral response, like Christ's own, will be inspired more by a hopeful fidelity to God's call than by a confident expectation of the fruitfulness of her love.

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